Road to Success

SEMA News—August 2017

LEGISLATIVE AND TECHNICAL AFFAIRS

By Stuart Gosswein

Road to Success

Providing Access to Public Lands Boosts Product Sales

  legislative
For SEMA members, the range of products associated with outdoor recreation goes beyond the four-wheel drives, ATVs and UTVs associated with off-roading. It includes tires, wheels, suspension, tuning and myriad other products for highway vehicles and for towing trailers, boats and other vehicles to their destinations.
   

We live in a mobile society and a nation networked by millions of miles of roads and trails. Our industry provides tools to help Americans seek adventure and commune with nature, whether they’re visiting a national park or venturing off the paved roads. Our industry’s products enhance a vehicle’s comfort or increase its performance capabilities to guarantee a quality ride.

Making sure roads and trails are open has always been a primary SEMA mission. There is no shortage of challenges at the federal level. The following are the most prominent issues.

Infrastructure Bill

America has a lot of infrastructure that needs rebuilding. Experts estimate that more than $3 trillion is needed to modernize bridges, airports, water and electric facilities. President Trump has proposed authorizing $1 trillion worth of building projects over the next 10 years. SEMA has focused on the roads/trails component.

This year, SEMA joined with many other organizations to form the Outdoor Recreation Industry Roundtable (ORIR), which represents everything from motorized recreation to boating, camping, fishing, hiking and archery. ORIR’s primary mission is to pursue federal policy reforms for rebuilding the nation’s recreation-related infrastructure. It provides a unified voice for outdoor recreation, which generates an estimated $646 billion in direct spending and supports more than six million jobs.

ORIR representatives have met with Trump administration officials and lawmakers on Capitol Hill to discuss potential venues for investing in outdoor recreation, including an infrastructure bill and annual appropriations for highway rebuilding and other projects.

ORIR initiatives are not limited to laying down asphalt. They include everything associated with the outdoor experience. Examples include modernizing campsites, extending hours of service, implementing electronic fee collection, and leveraging public-private partnerships to reduce maintenance backlogs.

For SEMA members, the range of products associated with outdoor recreation goes beyond the four-wheel drives, ATVs and UTVs associated with off-roading. It includes tires, wheels, suspension, tuning and myriad other products for highway vehicles and for towing trailers, boats and other vehicles to their destinations.

National Monuments

monuments
Making sure roads and trails are open has always been a primary SEMA mission.
 
   

Current law provides the president with the authority to declare land of “historic or scientific interest” a national monument. While only 129 areas are currently protected since the law took effect in 1906, hundreds of millions of acres have been set aside in the process.

President Trump directed the U.S. Department of the Interior to review 40 national monument designations dating back to 1996 and recommend whether any should be rescinded, resized or modified. The review applies to monuments larger than 100,000 acres and those designations the department determines were not sufficiently coordinated with stakeholders. Two examples include the 1996 Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument (1.88 million acres) and the Bears Ear National Monument (1.35 million acres), both in Utah.

SEMA supports the review of national monument designations along with legislation in the U.S. Congress to curtail the president’s power to unilaterally designate national monuments by requiring their approval by Congress and the impacted state legislature(s). The issue is consequential because national monuments automatically prohibit new roads or trails for motorized vehicles and require that a new land-management plan be drafted that could lead to more road closures.

  public lands
There have been widespread calls to revise the ESA to foster more cooperative efforts and incentive programs between the government, private landowners and conservation organizations. The law has favored a blanket approach of setting aside millions of acres rather than nurturing smaller recovery zones. Many OHV roads and trails have been closed in the process—a sacrifice that has not necessarily translated into better species protections.
   

Wilderness Act

The Wilderness Act of 1964 established a framework whereby Congress protects land that is essentially undisturbed, retains a primeval character, is without permanent improvements, and generally appears to have been affected primarily by only the forces of nature. The lands become part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, which began with 9 million acres and now encompasses nearly 110 million acres (an area larger than the state of California). Wilderness is closed to all motorized vehicles and mechanical forms of transportation, including mountain bikes.

Nearly 13 million acres of land across the United States have been in limbo as Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs). They were set aside as potentially having enough characteristics to be eligible for the wilderness status. Federal agencies manage the lands as such pending Congress’ ultimate decision on whether to finalize the designation or release the land for other uses, such as motorized recreation.

SEMA supports a case-by-case review of all WSAs to determine an appropriate designation that has widespread local community support. Decisions must be based in part on an inventory of all developments within the WSA, including roads, routes, trails, cabins, etc. SEMA also supports “cherry-stemming” existing roads/trails to provide access when adjoining areas are designated wilderness.

Endangered Species Act

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 was designed to protect threatened and endangered species and the habitats in which they are found. It applies to federal, state and private lands. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintains a list of more than 2,000 threatened or endangered species, which includes birds, insects, fish, reptiles, mammals, crustaceans, flowers, grasses and trees.

There have been widespread calls to revise the ESA to foster more cooperative efforts and incentive programs between the government, private landowners and conservation organizations. The law has favored a blanket approach of setting aside millions of acres rather than nurturing smaller recovery zones. Many OHV roads and trails have been closed in the process—a sacrifice that has not necessarily translated into better species protections.

SEMA supports ESA reform legislation to focus government resources on recovery habitats rather than setting aside huge tracts of land that spawn endless lawsuits. SEMA also supports other initiatives such as agreements for landowners to voluntarily participate in conservation plans and using the best available scientific information when considering species listings.

The great American landscape is as diverse as its people, and our industry provides some of the products that help us explore our country’s vast terrain. Keeping roads and trails open presents challenges when they are threatened with designations such as National Monument, Wilderness or ESA habitat. SEMA, its member companies and the OHV community are working collectively with lawmakers and regulators to protect access and the opportunity to recreate on public lands.

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